Analysis & Opinions - Slate

A.I. Microdirectives Could Soon Be Used for Law Enforcement

| July 17, 2023

And they're terrifying.

Imagine a future in which A.I.s automatically interpret—and enforce—laws.

All day and every day, you constantly receive highly personalized instructions for how to comply with the law, sent directly by your government and law enforcement. You’re told how to cross the street, how fast to drive on the way to work, and what you’re allowed to say or do online—if you’re in any situation that might have legal implications, you’re told exactly what to do, in real time.

Imagine that the computer system formulating these personal legal directives at mass scale is so complex that no one can explain how it reasons or works. But if you ignore a directive, the system will know, and it’ll be used as evidence in the prosecution that’s sure to follow.

This future may not be far off—automatic detection of lawbreaking is nothing new. Speed cameras and traffic-light cameras have been around for years. These systems automatically issue citations to the car’s owner based on the license plate. In such cases, the defendant is presumed guilty unless they prove otherwise, by naming and notifying the driver.

In New York, A.I. systems equipped with facial recognition technology are being used by businesses to identify shoplifters. Similar A.I.-powered systems are being used by retailers in Australia and the United Kingdom to identify shoplifters and provide real-time tailored alerts to employees or security personnel. China is experimenting with even more powerful forms of automated legal enforcement and targeted surveillance.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Penney, Jonathan W. and Bruce Schneier.“A.I. Microdirectives Could Soon Be Used for Law Enforcement.” Slate, July 17, 2023.

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